Baron's ball

Press Your Luck

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page - Story by David Show­ers

This year's Baron Ball cel­e­bra­tion will draw on a casino theme. Pro­ceeds to ben­e­fit Levi Hos­pi­tal.

Pa­trons of Levi Hos­pi­tal's an­nual Baron's Ball fundrais­ing gala have come to ex­pect the un­ex­pected, which of­ten ex­presses it­self in a stage show that di­verges sharply from the evening's mo­tif.

Ball go­ers kit­ted out in Re­nais­sance at­tire have been feted by a send up of a 1940s ra­dio drama spon­sored by the fic­tive Re­nais­sance Soap, and “A Ro­mance of Spain” theme that urged at­tire evoca­tive of the Span­ish Golden Age or An­dalu­sian coun­try­side has veered into a cruise ship pro­duc­tion aboard the Ro­mance of Spain.

This year's “Party of the Cen­tury” con­cept, cel­e­brat­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the non­profit hos­pi­tal, also prom­ises a big re­veal, said Davis Till­man, lo­cal im­pre­sario and pro­pri­etor of Till­man's An­tiques. The Nov. 8 ex­trav­a­ganza at the Hot Springs Con­ven­tion Cen­ter's Horner Hall will mark the 10th year he's em­ceed the event, help­ing it grow from 320 guests to the more than 500 who at­tended last year's “Vaudeville Cir­cus” that raised $38,000.

“It's part of the tour de force,” Till­man said of the some­times abrupt de­par­ture from theme. “Every­body has a great time. They're there for both a phil­an­thropic cause, but also for fun. And one thing we pro­vide is lots of fun.”

Cos­tumes are part of the whimsy, as guests are en­cour­aged to cloak them­selves in garb con­sis­tent with the

theme, Till­man said.

“It's al­ways a cos­tume ball,” he said. “Cos­tumes and masks are al­ways en­cour­aged. We pro­vide the com­mu­nity with a for­mal yet cos­tumed event ev­ery fall. It's one of the fall fa­vorites.”

Till­man joins in the lark, re­ceiv­ing guests in his Baron d'Abila per­sona, a ti­tle he un­abashedly as­sumes for the Baron's Ball or when ne­ces­sity mer­its.

“When I turned 50, I pur­chased a ti­tle,” he said. “He's even more of a character than I am. I use it for char­ity events. It also gets you in some restau­rants when it's hard to get in restau­rants. It's worked very well in New Or­leans and Las Ve­gas.”

The al­ter ego soon dis­solves into the character at the cen­ter of the evening's per­for­mance. What form that character will man­i­fest is closely guarded.

“After the lights go down and the cur­tains go up, I'm usu­ally some­one else,” Till­man said. “Some­times a nice guy. Some­times a not so nice guy.”

The cen­ten­nial ju­bilee will riff off of the sim­ple el­e­gance of Monte Carlo, the Rat Pack and “Ocean's 11,” evok­ing a tack sharp James Bond brood­ing at the bac­carat ta­ble in “Casino Royale” or a nat­tily clad Frank, Sammy and Dean wreathed in cig­a­rette smoke while hold­ing court at the Sands.

“We'll do it as a gi­ant birth­day cel­e­bra­tion with feath­ered show girls, ro­man­tic bal­lads, co­me­di­ans and end up the night with a casino night,” he said. “… If you're think­ing James Bond at Monte Carlo in the `60s and `70s, you're prob­a­bly right on tar­get. It's Rat Pack goes to Monte Carlo.”

The per­for­mance runs one hour, but months of prepa­ra­tion are needed to bring it off seam­lessly.

“We will spend the en­tire sum­mer build­ing sets and pulling things to­gether for an hour per­for­mance,” Till­man said. “We have a won­der­ful group of vol­un­teers who make cos­tumes. The peo­ple re­ally

en­joy it, and it helps many good causes through­out our com­mu­nity.”

The third act of the evening, the per­for­mance is pre­ceded by a silent auc­tion and an elab­o­rate din­ner in­tended to be as ar­rest­ing as the en­ter­tain­ment. Turf Cater­ing's han­dling the bill of fare that prom­ises to daz­zle the guests, Till­man said.

“One thing that makes it dif­fer­ent is it's a full pro­duc­tion,” he said. “You'll get a full the­atri­cal-style pro­duc­tion. You'll get a won­der­ful din­ner. We re­ally work hard to pro­vide one of the out­stand­ing char­ity din­ners a per­son will have.

“We work with the chef, do tast­ings, the whole thing. I want the meal to be as ex­cit­ing and themed as the ac­tual en­ter­tain­ment.”

Just as the stage pro­duc­tion is the third act, the dessert serves as the meal's de­noue­ment. Till­man said he pre­vails upon the chef to make it mem­o­rable. Choco­late fash­ioned into gon­do­las tied into the Vene­tian Mas­quer­ade con­cept of the in­au­gu­ral Baron's Ball. Choco­late hewn cir­cus masks and flour­less choco­late cakes em­bel­lished with the ball's logo have all been part the or­nate of­fer­ings that are at once art and rich cui­sine.

“One of the things I al­ways tell the chef is that the third act is the dessert, and you bet­ter be at the top of your game,” Till­man said. “If peo­ple aren't tak­ing pic­tures of our desserts, I'm not a happy cam­per.”

The hos­pi­tal's in­pa­tient adult psy­chi­atric pro­gram is one of the ser­vices ben­e­fited by the gala. It is the area's only in­pa­tient pro­gram serv­ing adult psy­chi­atric pa­tients, who can also be treated by the Tran­si­tions pro­gram. It's the short-term out­pa­tient reg­i­men that's also a ben­e­fi­ciary of the gala. It pro­vides a group set­ting sev­eral times a week for im­prov­ing cop­ing skills, prob­lem solv­ing, stress man­age­ment and treat­ment com­pli­ance.

Pro­ceeds support the hos­pi­tal's cer­ti­fied ath­letic train­ing pro­gram as well, en­sur­ing train­ers are in place for high school ath­letic com­pe­ti­tions and prac­tices.

Till­man said a decade's worth of Baron's Balls have net­ted about $500,000 for the hos­pi­tal.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Beth Bright, Richard Ras­mussen and Mara Kuhn

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